HAMILTON -- The championship game for the Western B boys basketball divisional tournament was set on Friday at Hamilton High School. Here is a look at who will be playing for a spot to qualify for the State B tournament in Butte.
Deer Lodge 49, Missoula Loyola 41
Deer Lodge's quest to get back to the State B tournament took one more step toward fruition on Friday night when the Wardens defeated the Missoula Loyola Rams 49-41.
Sophomore Logan Nicholson scored 17 points for Deer Lodge while senior Ben Anderson added 10. The Wardens (17-5) haven't made the state tournament since 2012.
"It means the world to us," Anderson said. "We've been waiting, specifically me, for four years for this. When I came in my freshman year, we were pretty senior-stacked. (Head coach Dakota) Norris made it pretty clear to me that once it was my time we were taking it all the way.
"For us to come in here and change the culture for Deer Lodge is something that really means a lot to us."
It didn't come without a fight, though. The Wardens' defense made life difficult for the Rams and led 25-18 at halftime. But even after Deer Lodge took a comfortable lead in the final quarter, the Rams kept the tempo high by forcing Deer Lodge turnovers. But Loyola struggled to convert on the offensive end down the stretch and didn't narrow the gap to any less than seven points.
Senior Jaden Job led Loyola (12-10) with nine points. The Rams will take on Anaconda at 9 a.m. on Saturday in a loser-out game.
Deer Lodge, meanwhile, will take on Arlee in the championship game at 6 p.m. on Saturday.
"Beating Loyola is really satisfying because we wanted to be Loyola for the past four years," Norris said. "They've had all the tournament success, they've been awesome, and they've beaten us. Last year they're the ones who beat us in the semis so we've been battling to be that sort of team, and I really think it's hat's off to our kids."
Arlee 50, Bigfork 39
In their inaugural year at the Class B level, the Arlee Warriors are one game away from qualifying for the State B tournament after topping the Bigfork Vikings 50-39.
Senior Cody Tanner led Arlee (9-14) with 20 points while seniors Zach Running Crane and Billy Fisher added 12 and 10, respectively.
Arlee jumped out to a 22-16 lead after a pair of baskets from Running Crane. Just before the buzzer, Tanner added a layup that sent the Warriors into half up 24-21.
Arlee never looked back from there as the Warriors used timely baskets to extend their lead. Tanner got Arlee its first double-digit lead after a three-point play to make it 39-27, and Fisher used a layup to make it 41-28 with 6:07 left in the game, Arlee's largest lead.
Head coach Zachary Conko Camel said even though a lot of his current varsity players didn't play much in Arlee's four-year State C title game run from 2016-19, he still believed in his team to reach this point. He said it was just a matter of the using the process to develop his team.
The move to Class B has had its challenges, but Camel said they've adjusted in different ways which has led to this success down the stretch.
"I said, 'Hey, we're going to do this,'" he said. "We're a team with a lot of role players and that's what it's all about, people figuring out their roles. And once they bought in and said, 'That's my role, I'm going to take it and do the best I can with it,' that's when we took those final steps and that's how it goes, so that's where we're at.
"They got to sit through those (Class C) championships and see what it feels like and that's what it's about."
Senior Colt Thomas led Bigfork (11-11) with 12 points. Bigfork will play Thompson Falls at 9 a.m. on Saturday in a loser-out game.